Science Says Young Adults Are The Happiest Generation, But There's A Catch

It's often said that youth is wasted on the young  --  but that may no longer be the case, according to a new research review.

A group of researchers sifted through data compiled between 1972 to 2014 to determine if Americans today are happier than our historical counterparts were.

Approximately 1.3 million Americans were represented in that timeframe, all between the ages of 13 and 96.

All of the participants were asked one standard question:

Would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?

The researchers found adults over 30 are less happy than historical trends suggest they should be while those under 30 are happier than all youth groups before them.

In fact, 30 percent of young adults (aged between 18 and 29) report feeling "very happy" today, compared with 28 percent in the '70s. For the teenage demographic, there was a four percent jump, from 19 to 23 percent.

What gives?

Jean Twenge, researcher and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, suggests the shift in cultural values may play a role in how we perceive our happiness.

Today, we place a greater emphasis on individualism than previous generations did. Young adults now may be happier than our historical counterparts because we're spending more time doing what we want to do, instead of what we're supposed to do.

Technology may also play a role, either in making us happier or making those above 30 less happy.

One other, perhaps less thrilling, reason may be that young people today have an unrealistic expectation for their future.

As Twenge and her research partners point out, 64 percent of  high school students today expect to be a manager or a professional by age 30, up from 48 percent in 1976.

The number of people who actually go on to attain this level has held steady at about 18 percent since the 1970s.

So it's safe to assume, when young people fail to hit their expected goal at the age of 29, they are going to be disappointed and thus, less happy.

There are many possible explanations for this upward shift, but because happiness is so hard to define, nailing down the reasons is a feat not easily accomplished.

In any case, us 20-somethings are happier than ever  —  and that, my friends, is something to be, well, happy about.

Citations: Science Says Its Great To Be Young (Huffington Post), Young People Are Happier Than They Used to Be (The Atlantic)